Sabra Ayres

Correspondent

  • Kabul, Afghanistan, Middle East

Sabra Ayres is a correspondent who lives in Kabul, Afghanistan, and covers Moscow and St. Petersburg for Forbes Travel Guide. Ayres is a freelance journalist who was born and raised in Virginia and has spent more than a decade living and working in the former Soviet Union, India and Afghanistan. Her stories have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, Newsweek and on the Associated Press newswire. When she’s not filing stories, she’s traveling the globe searching for her next adventure.

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  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    When is the best time to visit St. Petersburg: during the winter or the summer White Nights?

    The best time to visit St. Petersburg depends on what sort of trip you’re seeking. While it’s true that St. Petersburg can be frigid in winter, Russians truly come alive when the temperature drops. For Russians, enduring the cold is seen as a sign of strength, and they’re proud of their city’s icy temps. You’ll find that with the right clothing (lots of wool and down, and no exposed skin), you can beat the chill and feel more like a local than a tourist. There’s something romantic about the snow falling on the pastel colors of the former houses of the nobility along the embankments.
     
    However, the White Nights of midsummer in St. Petersburg are equally spectacular, with long days of nearly 22 hours of sunlight. The bridges crossing the Neva River are raised each night to allow ships to pass, meaning cars and pedestrians can’t get across during certain hours of the early morning, usually from 1 to 5 a.m. Locals, especially the younger set, use the opportunity to stay out later at local bars and clubs, and then wait for the lowering of the bridges in the early morning sunlight. Call it city bonding at its best.
  • On August 16, 2012
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    What is the best thing to bring home from St. Petersburg?

    For the best thing to bring home from St. Petersburg for friends and family, think Russian souvenirs such as the stackable matrushka doll. You can find good prices and selections on a variety of sizes at St. Petersburg’s Gostiny Dvor shopping arcade, where you’ll also find traditional Russian scarves and other knickknacks.
     
    St. Petersburg shops also carry a lot of amber and you’ll find variations of the stone from store to store across the city. Don’t buy the first piece you see, as you’re likely to see more in the next place you visit. For your gourmand friends, black and red caviar are sold in most supermarkets in the center; look for a special refrigerator in the store dedicated to caviar.
     
    Finally, for the book lovers in your life, the pastel-colored nobility houses lining the embankments in St. Petersburg are well-photographed, and Dom Knigi bookstore on Nevksy Prospect carries several examples of these coffee table-sized books.
  • On August 16, 2012
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    What are the five best St. Petersburg food experiences?

    A visit to St. Petersburg is your chance to sample traditional Russian foods that you likely won’t find at home. Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best St. Petersburg food experiences will tempt your palate and give you a real taste of unique Russian delicacies.

    1. Georgian food. Russia and Georgia may still be in tense arguments about breakaway regions on their shared borders, but they both agree that Georgian food is some of the best in Europe. Be sure to try the cheese pie, called khachipuri.
     
    2. Pelmeni. Sometimes referred to as Siberian pelmini, the tasty dumplings are filled with meat and best served with a dollop of sour cream on top.
     
    3. Zakuski. Russian starters are a staple of the traditional meal. Salads such as olivie (made with potatoes, pickles, boiled eggs, green peas and mayonnaise) and the layered herring shuba salad (layers of herring, boiled eggs, beets, carrots, potatoes and mayonnaise) are typical fare on a Russian table.
     
    4. Caviar. Russians prepare caviar on a buttered piece of bread, and you won’t have any trouble finding red caviar in most Russian eateries. The more expensive black caviar from Caspian Sea sturgeon is served at some of the more expensive restaurants and can be bought in small tins at supermarkets.
     
    5. Blini. You can find Russia’s tasty version of pancakes stuffed with anything from cheese and ham to caviar in many places in the city.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    Where is the best nightlife in St. Petersburg?

    While Moscow is the place for exclusive clubs and famous DJ names, St. Petersburg has its fair share of nightlife, albeit perhaps a bit more casual. You’ll find more student cafés and hangouts with open mics than lavish, overpriced dance clubs. A few favorite bars with both locals and expats: Datscha, The Office Pub, Begemot and Fish Fabrique.
     
    Locals are known for being proud of their city and for being more than happy to talk to visitors about all the great aspects of St. Petersburg. You won’t find it hard to strike up conversations with the younger generation, many of whom will be pleased to practice their English.
  • On August 16, 2012
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    What is the best way to see St. Petersburg in one day?

    To see the best of St. Petersburg in one day, start the morning with a canal cruise, which will give you an excellent panorama of the Russian city’s main attractions. Then stroll along Nevsky Prospect and wind up in the Palace Square to reflect on the grand Tsarist past of St. Petersburg. If you have time, don’t miss the Hermitage collection.
     
    In the afternoon, take a hydrofoil trip out to Peterhof Palace to see why it’s sometimes called the Russian Versailles. Afterward, return to the city and wander along the embankments of the canals to take in the local custom of just strolling the scenic city’s unique pathways. In the evening, catch a ballet or opera at the famous Mariinsky Theatre and enjoy a late dinner at one of St. Petersburg’s restaurants with a modern Russian menu.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    Where is the best shopping in St. Petersburg?

    St. Petersburg is not the shoppers’ paradise of Russia (Moscow fits that bill). But travelers will find plenty of upscale brands and smaller boutiques on Nevsky Prospect, the main drag of the city. The city’s oldest shopping center, Gostiny Dvor, is located in the center of Nevsky Prospect and is an arcade-like shopping venue. Its historical significance has a bigger draw than the shops inside — the building dates back to the 18th century and is a good place for finding souvenirs. St. Petersburg does have some large brand-name shops on Nevsky Prospect, such as Zara and Benetton, and there are smaller boutiques scattered throughout the city.
     
    For a book to commemorate your visit (or if you’re just looking for something to read on the trip), Dom Knigi (House of Books) in the old Singer building on Nevsky Prospect has a good selection of English-language books, including coffee table books about St. Petersburg. Since natives of St. Petersburg consider themselves the literary elite of Russia, you’ll find that the local bookstores are usually crowded with locals.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Sabra Ayres answered the question: Sabra Ayres

    What are the best things to do with kids in St. Petersburg?

    Like Moscow, St. Petersburg doesn’t have many specific venues for kids. However, the younger set will be impressed with the grandness of the Russian city’s various imperial palaces, as well as some of the city’s museums and cultural offerings. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ suggestions for the five best things to do with kids in St. Petersburg.
     
    1. Peterhof Palace. In the summer, take the hydrofoil to Peterhof Palace. While the adults appreciate the historical aspect of the trip, the kids can enjoy the extensive park area and layers of fountains.
     
    2. Kunstkamera. For older kids, there’s the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, more commonly known as the Kunstkamera. The museum is a vault of biological curiosities, though keep in mind that some of the exhibits might not be appropriate for very young kids.
     
    3. New Holland island. For some outdoor fun, check out the recently rebuilt New Holland (Novaya Golandiya) island. Private investors have taken over what was a rundown former Russian Naval shipyard and turned it into a family-friendly venue for art exhibits, art classes and activities for kids. It’s also a pleasant place for a family picnic.
     
    4. Ballet or opera. For young travelers able to sit still long enough, a ballet or opera at the grand Mariinsky Theatre is unforgettable.
     
    5. Canal boat ride. A tour with English commentary about the history of St. Petersburg will entertain most young travelers. Many boats have a small snack bar on board, just in case. Look for the advertisements along the canals near Nevsky Prospect and book a few hours in advance during the peak summer season.